*This is a guest blog post by Jon Milnes
One thing I love about diving is to be underwater; underwater with fish, coral, friends and camera. There’s nothing quite like it, it’s simply awesome! Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, they sink a very large ship that has significant history in the US Navy and they have sunk it where I live and work as an underwater photographer!
Many of you have visited Thailand (if you haven’t, then you really should) and some of you will have come to a beautiful island called Koh Chang. It’s Thailand’s second largest island, located in the Gulf of Thailand (about 5 hours drive from Bangkok) and it is covered head to toe in thick lush green rain forest (Koh Chang National Park). With only coastal development, and accommodation and nightlife to suit every traveller – scattered mainly along the west coast – this place is a haven for globe trotters and luxury travellers alike.
I have enjoyed diving Koh Chang for the last eight years working as a dive instructor and underwater photographer. It’s a perfect place to learn diving; having a National Marine Park that has an archipelago of 42 coral fringed islands with an abundance of marine life, just 30 minutes by speed by boat from Koh Chang. An already fantastic dive destination has just been officially put on the map with the sinking of Koh Chang’s new ship wreck, HTMS CHANG, formally the USS Lincoln County.
LTS-898 was a tank landing ship built by Dravo Corporation of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and launched on 25 November 1944. With a crew of nine officers and 90-100 enlisted men, she was commissioned a month later for the United States Navy during World War II. During the war she aided with the war effort and shuttled supplies and troops to and from the Philippines to Okinawa, Japan. She also saw lots of action in the Korean War; on the 10 September 1950, loaded with troops and vehicles at Kobe Japan, she set sail to participate in the famous Inchon invasion. The success of the operation prompted General Douglas MacArthur to remark that, “The Navy and Marines have never shone more brightly than this morning”. LST-898 continued operations in support of the Korean War, including providing emergency medical care for wounded marines and support for assault forces by shelling enemy positions ashore.
After the Korean War, LST-898 carried out operations in Alaska and then the Western Pacific with amphibious exercises off the west coast of the United States.
On 15 July 1955, LST-898 was officially named USS Lincoln County and spent the next 5 years on three tours with the 7th Fleet including one trip to the Arctic to supply DEW line installations (a system of radar stations) and took part in more exercises off the west coast of the USA.
After serving in two wars with the US Navy and receiving seven battle star awards, USS Lincoln County was decommissioned on 24 March 1961. On 31 August 1962 she was handed over to Thailand under the terms of the Military Assistance Programme. She was renamed 712 HTMS CHANG and served in the Royal Thai Navy for almost 50 years, providing transport for troops and vehicles.
After lots of debate what to do with her and where to do it, the Thai Royal Navy and some dive happy local business owners decided to sink HTMS CHANG as an artificial reef and dive site 4 miles of the coast of Koh Chang.
Two years ago Thailand’s coral reefs and reefs around the world suffered from coral bleaching, this was due to warming sea temperatures. The coral recovers and grows back but this takes time – normally 1-2 years. The Thai Government closed down a few dive sites in the worst affected areas and really started to think about ways they can help the coral recover. This led to more and more projects conducted locally around Thailand setting about the creation of artificial reefs: everything from blocks of concrete to statues of elephants have been sunk under the water to create more marine diversity, coral growth and tourist attractions. These provide additional locations to take snorkelers and divers to ease the pressure of recovery on the natural reefs. The potential for this huge ship to become an underwater oasis for turtles, rays, sharks, nudibranch’s and thousands of pelagic schooling fish is quite extraordinary and is sure to make one of the best dive sites in Thailand!
HTMS CHANG got towed to Koh Chang and was sunk on the 22nd November 2012. It is now Thailand’s longest wreck with her bottom sitting on the sand at 30m and the crow’s nest just below the surface; it is accessible to all levels of divers, with 3 main decks and 7 sub decks decks from Bridge to bottom. This ship will keep keen wreck divers busy for countless dives and with lots to explore inside including troop cabins, briefing rooms, the captain’s cabin, countless corridors, the engine room, the main holding area and so much more. It’s sure to tantalise the taste buds of serious tech divers as well!
The wreck gets dived most mornings by the local dive schools but is not crowded with divers and I have yet to see a snorkelling boat there . Try a night dive on the wreck and you will have the whole ship to yourselves. HTMS CHANG has three nice dive sites just minutes away and with the back-drop of Koh Chang in the distance it makes a great day trip out.
You can book your dives online or when you arrive here in Koh Chang. I recommend, BB divers, Scuba Zone, Scuba Dawgs or Divingscool. If you want some professional portraits taken of you whilst diving the wreck, then you can contact Koh Chang Photographer.